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2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Seder, a symbol of the relationship between progressive politics and religion. In an age dominated by the Religious Right, observers often forget how spirituality, tradition and ritual have pushed Americans in a leftward direction./1
With two days to go before the seders, here is a Passover thread. /2
As American Jews gather to celebrate Passover this weekend—commemorating the story of Exodus—they will be reminded of the social justice values that inform the religion. /3
During the 1960s, these values pushed many American Jews to participate in the civil rights, feminist, and anti-war movements as activists and leaders. Figures such as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel symbolized this outlook./4
One of the most devastating days in our history was April 4, 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. was tragically assassinated. Following King’s death, there were riots in many cities fueled by outrage and frustration, including in Washington, D.C./5
Arthur Waskow, a secular Jew in this thirties who had been involved in the civil rights and anti-war movements, felt spiritually awakened. Waskow had worked as a legislative assistant, a fellow at the Peace Research Institute, and helped found the Institute for Policy Studies./6
In 1963, Waskow had been arrested protesting a segregated swimming pool./7
A few days after King's death in April 1968, something struck Waskow as he walked through the streets of D.C. to attend a Seder, passing by the military forces stationed on the streets./8
“I walked home, to get ready for the Seder,” @RabbiArthur recalled, “and that meant walking past the army, with a machine gun pointed at the block I lived on. And my kishkes, my guts, began to say, this is Pharaoh’s army!”/9
That year's seder was transformational for him. “The Seder became not just serious,” Waskow remembered, “it became explosive, like a volcano. Like discovering a volcano you didn’t even know existed in your own backyard . . . Something blew up. Wham.” /10
The experience inspired him to write his own Haggadah, the book filled with texts, commentary, prayer, and songs that is used to conduct the service before and after the meal./11
“Where the old Haggadah had what seemed to me a silly argument about how many plagues had really afflicted Egypt, I substituted a serious quandary . . could the nonviolence of King and Gandhi bring a deeper transformation?”/12
Waskow “wove the story of the liberation of ancient Hebrews from Pharaoh with the liberation struggles of black America, of the Vietnamese people, passages from Dr. King, from Gandhi.” /13
The connection between the biblical story of Exodus and the struggles of marginalized groups in the 1960s had been a recurring theme in the speeches of figures such as King./14
On April 4, 1969—the third night of Passover and the first anniversary of King’s death—Waskow led an interfaith Seder using his Freedom Haggadah. 800 people packed into the basement of the Lincoln Temple in Washington./15
Jews and Christians experienced an intense moment of spiritual solidarity. “Both the Jewish community and the black community have suffered great atrocities. And so the fact that we were coming together was a very important and powerful idea,” one civil rights leader recalled./16
Participants read and sang, debated and discussed, laughed and meditated, creating a smooth flow between the traditional texts and modern discussions of social injustice and the threat of nuclear war. /17
Hymns such as “Go Down, Moses” were interspersed with familiar songs such as “Chad Gadya.” “Go Down Moses (Let Our People Go)” and “Blowing in the Wind” were sung alongside the prayers over the wine and Matzah. The seder was broadcast on radio. /18
The atmosphere was so tense in those days that participants looked up nervously whenever they heard sirens from fire engines or police cars driving down Rhode Island Avenue./19
Waskow’s Freedom Haggadah became an inspiration for other works that re-imagined the Seder in relationship to issues such as refugees, the environment, gay rights, and feminism. /20
Waskow went on to have a fascinating career as a rabbi, author and teacher. In 1983, he founded the Shalom Center and was awarded the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award as Human Rights Hero from @truahrabbis. /21
In March 2018, Waskow released a new version of the Freedom Haggadah, dealing with issues such as Parkland and #MeToo. “Pharaoh is the in White House,” he said at a celebration of the Freedom Seder at @NMAJH. /22
In July 2018, Waskow, 84 years old, was arrested outside the Philadelphia ICE office protesting @realdonaldtrump’s family separation policy. The video of the arrest went viral. /23
Progressive politics and religion have gone hand-in-hand in American history. Today, we see that this tradition with powerful religious leaders such as @RevDrBarber and @rabbijilljacobs. Here, @HeldShai and Jacobs discuss Judaism and social justice. /24
@HeldShai and @rabbijilljacobs were among the rabbis and religious leaders arrested during a major protest over the death of Eric Garner./25
Here is a list of several Jewish organizations, such as @HIASrefugees, that are doing hard work to champion these progressive causes./26
A developing story centers on Democrats, such as @ewarren, @PeteButtigieg, @CoreyBooker, @SenGillibrand who are appealing to the Religious Left, a break from the decades-long dominance of the Religious Right that @KevinMKruse and I documented in #FaultLines./27
Chag Sameach and Tikkun Olam./end
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